This article is about the Australian car manufacturer. See Holden (places) for articles about towns named Holden.

Holden Australia is an Australian car manufacturer, originally independent but now a subsidiary of General Motors.

Holden began as Holden Body Works, a coachbuilder that made bodies to suit a number of chassis imported from different manufacturers, but particularly Chevrolet. It was purchased by General Motors in 1931 and became General Motors Holden.

Australia's Own Car

After the end of World War II, the Australian government took steps to encourage an Australian automotive industry, and persuaded General Motors to build "Australia's own car". The Holden 48/215, introduced in 1948, was a medium-sized vehicle fitted with a 132 cubic inch (2.15 litre) engine. Although not particularly mechanically or stylistically sophisticated, it was simple, rugged, more powerful than most competitors, and offered reasonable performance and fuel economy in an affordable package. Better suited to Australian conditions than its competitors, and assisted by tariff barriers, it rapidly became Australia's best-selling car.

Despite the arrival of competitors in the 1960s, Holden's locally-produced large six and eight-cylinder cars have remained Australia's top-selling vehicle for most of that time. The Kingswood sedan, wagon and ute (utility or pickup truck) was exported and assembled abroad, including New Zealand along with South Africa (badged as the Chevrolet Kommando), Indonesia and Trinidad and Tobago. Holden has offered a reasonably full range of other vehicles, some locally produced but others sourced from various other parts of the General Motors empire, such as Opel, Isuzu and Suzuki.

Another notable Holden offering was the mid-size Torana, introduced in the mid-1960s, and initially based on the British Vauxhall Viva. The name 'Torana' was an aborigine word meaning 'to fly'. The Torana hatchback was unusual in that this model was offered with a choice of a four, six or eight cylinder engine. The four was very sluggish, the eight-cylinder version alarmingly fast: the six was the most popular option. The Torana was replaced by the Camira, which was GM's medium-sized 'J-Car'. Bodywork for the Camira wagon was exported to the UK for Vauxhall's Cavalier.

The Commodore

Since 1978, Holden's largest (and currently only locally-produced) model has been the Commodore. The Commodore was originally based on a design by Opel but went through such extensive revisions (including several generations of engines, enlargements, suspension design changes, and complete body restyles) that this "grandfather's axe" of a car must now be regarded as a unique vehicle - indeed, it is the only rear-drive sedan still produced by GM.

The original Commodore, designed in the midst of the 1970s fuel crises, was significantly smaller than the Kingswood it replaced or its arch-rival, the Ford Falcon. Initially it was a huge success, but as the fuel crisis faded, Ford's larger package began to outsell it. At this time, Holden were also dealing with a number of severe and longstanding cost and build quality issues (as were other car companies in Australia and around the world). Holden lost sales leadership throughout the 1980s and did not regain top spot until the early 1990s. A succession of financial losses saw the company in trouble and in danger of closing local manufacture during this period.

In 1988, the VN Commodore was launched, based on the Opel Omega but using a stretched platform. In addition, there was an even larger model, the Statesman, which would take on Ford's LTD.

The current Commodore, one of the most successful cars in Holden's history, features either a 3.8 litre Buick-sourced V6 or a 5.7 litre V8 borrowed from the Chevrolet Corvette. The V8 offers outstanding performance from a large car at a relatively modest price. The more modest six-cylinder (still probably the largest and most powerful top selling sedan anywhere in the world) is ubiquitous in government and private fleets. The Holden Commodore's major competitor in the Australian family car market is the Ford Falcon. In most years the Commodore consistently outsells the very similar Ford product, but the competition remains fierce.

Model Sharing under the Button Plan

Between the late 1980s and mid-1990s, the Australian government introduced a plan to restructure the local motor industry, which involved local manufacturers sharing models, nown as the Button Plan, after the federal minister for trade and industry, John Button. Holden sold the Nissan Pulsar as a Holden Astra (not to be confused with the Opel-sourced model of the same name). In 1988, it then underwent a merger with Toyota in Australia, to form a joint venture company called United Australian Automobile Industries (UAAI). In 1989, Holden began selling rebadged versions of Toyota's Corolla and Camry, as the Nova and Apollo, while Toyota sold the Commodore as the Toyota Lexcen, named after the late America's Cup yacht designer, Ben Lexcen. This proved unpopular with buyers, even though rival Ford had been successful with its Laser and Telstar models, which were just thinly disguised versions of Mazda's 323 and 626.

The 1990s

In 1995, UAAI was dissolved, and Holden was able to source product offerings from GM rather than from other manufacturers in Australia. Between 1996 and 1997, Holden replaced the Toyota-based Nova and Apollo, with the Astra and Vectra, imported from Opel in Europe. The Opel Corsa was already being sold in Australia as the Holden Barina, replacing a Suzuki-based model of that name. The Vectra was briefly assembled locally for export to neighbouring countries, but this was dealt a severe blow by the Asian economic crisis in 1997.

New Zealand

The first export of Holdens to New Zealand began in 1955, and for many years they were assembled at the General Motors New Zealand plant in Trentham outside Wellington, until it closed in 1990. While the Holden name was used on virtually all GM products in Australia, in New Zealand other GM products from Vauxhall, and later Opel were sold instead. The Australian Holden Camira fared so badly in New Zealand that local GM bosses decided to replace it with a completely different model sourced from Isuzu in Japan.

It was only in 1994 that General Motors New Zealand finally became Holden New Zealand, with the Opel name being dropped, and Astra and Vectra being rebadged as Holdens, even though they were then not available in Australia. Similarly, the Isuzu Trooper off-road vehicle was rebadged the Holden Jackaroo, as in Australia. Early models of the Astra and Holden Vectra in New Zealand differed from those sold in Australia, in that they had distinctive grille with a 'V' containing the Holden badge, similar to that used by Vauxhall in the UK. Later on this was changed to bring the New Zealand model range in line with Australia.

There are still differences between the Holden model ranges in Australia and New Zealand. Unlike Australia, Holden in New Zealand has not sold the Isuzu-based Frontera, perhaps as many used ones imported from Japan are already sold locally. The small Holden Cruze, based on a Suzuki model, is also not sold in New Zealand, while the wagon version of the Holden Astra is not sold in Australia.

Export Markets

The Holden Commodore is as popular in New Zealand as it is in Australia, often being used as a police car. It is also sold in South Africa and parts of the Middle East badged as a Chevrolet Lumina, and in Brazil as the Chevrolet Omega. Holden's exports to the Middle East and Brazil were the first left hand drive cars built since the 1950s, when it sold cars in Hawaii. HSVs modified vehicles are also sold in the United Kingdom.

Sports Vehicles

During the 1960s and 70s, GMH sold a two-door variant of their full-size Holden sedan as the Monaro, with great success. A revived Monaro, based on the previous model Commodore, has attracted wide attention since being shown as a concept car at Australian motor shows, and a large waiting list after it was put into production. Starting with the 2004 model year, the Monaro has been exported to the USA, rebadged as the Pontiac GTO. It will also be introduced in the UK as a Vauxhall.

Specialist companies such as Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) resell standard model Holdens like the Commodore, rebadged with sports stylings and suspension tweaks. Holdens have been a staple of domestic touring car racing since the 1960s, and the quasi-factory Holden Racing Team has been dominant in V8 Supercar racing.

For information on other vehicles see: List of automobiles.

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